VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The championship finales of the 2021 RBI World Series sent some home with smiles and others with a taste for more next year -- but more than anything, it proved to be a glimpse into the future of the young stars within the program.
Some like those within the RBI Junior Atlanta Braves hope to make a successful return to the program after helping the team win the 16-under championship on Saturday morning. But even in victory, RBI Braves catcher Trey Callaway III can take a step back to appreciate the chance to perform on this stage.
“Everybody doesn’t get that,” he said. “Everybody doesn’t have this type of playing platform, this opportunity. It’s really good for kids our age and I just really hope we can come back next year.”
That’s something his manager Willie Slayton would love to see of his winning group.
“We’d love to keep them together, to train, to develop, and to keep growing and getting better,” Slayton said of his Braves. “My job as coach is to prepare these kids and get them in front of the right people so they can go out and live their dreams, whether that’s going on to play professional baseball or to earn their college scholarship.”
While such contributions from the Braves players still have time to wait in the wings as the young men continue their ballfield aspirations, other players will leap into what lies ahead much sooner, such as those playing their final year on the RBI Cincinnati Reds.
“A lot of these kids are graduating and about 13 of them are going on to play college baseball,” said manager Roosevelt Barnes. “But beyond that, we’ve got a great group of student-athletes. These guys are World Series champs, but in that bench are the next physicians, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
While the RBI program was designed, in part, to provide inclusion opportunities for young baseball and softball players among underserved populations, it also helps to facilitate individual and team growth.
Through the program, young men are learning to embrace diverse cultures, foster relationships with teammates and coaches, and make the most of shared experiences.
For Slayton, Major League Baseball’s commitment to the RBI program touches on a personal level. As someone who’s played baseball more than half his life, he experienced his own growth through the outreach program.
Now that he has the opportunity to give back to the next generation, he recognizes how much these moments mean to those he mentors.
“Even if you love it, without the arm of MLB reaching out to create something like this, it’s hard for them to even know where to go or how to get themselves to the next level,” he said. “For MLB to create and invest in RBI throughout the country, it’s everything.”
The RBI Reds, who won the program’s first championship Saturday, did so after losing coach Bob Johnson early in the season. Barnes explained the team dedicated their playoff run to the legacy of their late coach, and that Saturday’s victory embodies all the team has worked for.
“For a lot of these guys, this is their last game after five, seven years-plus in the program,” Barnes said. “It’s just a pleasure to work with these young men and to see them grow. Now, they’re going to go out in the world and some of them are going to play college baseball and some are going to start their careers and make their contributions to society. What a way to end it.”
The scoreboard on Saturday shows there were winners and losers in the championship games. But ultimately, the stories from each team prove that the program’s success reaches much further than that -- and the way RBI has touched the lives of these young men will forever be more meaningful.